The Hobbit Summary and Analysis
Chapter Five: Riddles in the Dark
Bilbo is alone and on all fours, groping along "till suddenly his hand met what felt like a tiny ring of cold metal lying on the floor of the tunnel. It was a turning point in his career, but he did not know it. He put the ring in his pocket almost without thinking..." He looks for his pipe and tobacco, finds them, but cannot find matches. Bilbo remembers that he has the "elvish dagger" from the trolls and its pale dim light tells him that he is well removed from the goblins' presence though not comfortably removed. The tunnel seems endlessly descending and the hobbit continues until he splashes a foot into an underground lake.
He recedes to the shore and waits. A creature named Gollum hisses, announcing his presence, and Gollum begins a conversation with Bilbo. Soon, they are both in a riddle contest where Bilbo's loss makes Gollum's dinner and Bilbo's victory procures Gollum's assistance in navigation and exit. Gollum has trouble with the riddles that require knowledge of the outside world, for he has lived in this low, dark, dank recess within a cave for quite some time. Though he is losing the game, Gollum's confidence reveals itself in the fact of his boiling a pot to cook Bilbowhatever Bilbo is exactly. In the end, Gollum correctly answers a very tough riddle and he assumes this to be his victory-in-hand. Bilbo wins in the end, however.
Gollum becomes belligerent and refuses to keep his promise. Instead, Gollum goes to his trunk and begins searching for something that he soon realizes is lost. He has lost the "ring" (a birthday-present) and quickly concludes that Bilbo has it. Gollum moves to block Bilbo's departure, but Bilbo has learnedfrom Gollum's wailsthat the ring makes its bearer invisible. Bilbo eventually (though narrowly) escapes Gollum and exits the Goblins' cave, invisible to the end.
There are two similes that unite the pale light of Gollum's eyes with the standard images of light and vision: "lamp-like" and "telescopes [for] distance." Gollum uses the invisibility of the ring and the light of his eyes to capture those who are helplessly undefended: blind fish and small goblins. Without his ring, Gollum concludes that his enviable balance of power has been disrupted.
The themes of knowledge and surveillance are entwined in many ways. It is dark, as the game of riddles is played among strangers (Bilbo, Gollum) and whoever else is present (?)all the while, Gollum tries to spy on visible Bilboall the while, Gollum's ring is unseen because it is inside of Bilbo's pocket and hiddenwhile Gollum searches for the hidden ring inside of his trunkwhile Bilbo realizes that his hidden ring will make him invisible. In terms of narrative structure, we should consider the riddle-game as a decoy that is less significant (morally and plot-wise) than the "foil" story concerning the loss and ownership of the ring. With the ring, Bilbo is immune to surveillance, though his shadows are troublesome. More important, the ring does not turn Bilbo into a wretched Gollum. Gollum's ring is a foil to Bilbo's riddle-game, but there is no simple equation of parallelism, foils or contrasts when we look at the two characters, Bilbo and Gollum. Both are thieves, tricksters and clever; both are armed and offer the truth sparingly. Still, Bilbo has compassion for Gollum, genuinely suffers when he hears the creature wailing and most important: Bilbo refuses to use an imbalance of power against Gollum. Gollum's greatest fault is his willingness to invisibly stalk blind things. This produces an awkward amalgam of pride and hubris in Gollum ('I'm a big fish in a small pond') but it also provokes our sympathy (he is in a pond, newly acquainted with his fear of the goblins).
It seems that every detail of the chapter foreshadows Tolkien's later workthe Trilogy more so than this novel. Suffice to say, this ring is very important. Gollum will reappear in the LOTR trilogy and Bilbo is very different now. In terms of theme, we might begin considering how heavy doses of foreshadowing (on the literary plane) and theft/heirlooms within the story itself, chip away at ideas of "free-will" and "self-knowledge" and turn the ring into a symbol of fate and destiny. Let the tobacco-pipe stand in opposition to the ring,as a symbol of nostalgia, domesticity and the hearthforces that would will Bilbo back to his hobbit-hole.
Chapter Six: Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire
Bilbo has escaped the goblins but he is still lost and has no clue where he is. He sees that he is on the east side of the mountains, at the edge of the Land Beyond. Bilbo fears that his friends are lost and he thinks of returning to find them. Fortunately, he finds the group and surprises them with his presencehe is able to sneak upon them wearing the ring. He tells the story of Gollum though he neglects mentioning the ring. Inside of the Goblin tunnels, the group has lost track of several days and though they are disoriented, they must continue forward. After all, the goblins are intent upon avenging the death of Great Goblin.
Gandalf urges the group ahead and they encounter a pack of wolves. They can climb up a few nearby trees but they are surrounded. The wolves and goblins are allies and as it turns out, the wolves are waiting in this forest-glade because they have planned a joint-attack with the goblins. Of course, the wolves cannot carry out their attack on the town because the goblins have not shown up at the appointed hourand this is because they are mourning their leader and looking for the dwarves.
Gandalf knows that he must do something and so he starts a fire in the midst of the wolves, attracting the attention of the Lord of the Eagles. Goblins arrive on the scene to mock the pained wolves and in a clever move, they burn fires around the trees in order to trap the dwarves. The Lord of the Eagles arrives and carries Gandalf away, just in time, and other birds come and save the dwarves and Bilbo. And so, the chapter ends with Bilbo lodged in a safe place, sleeping soundly.
In terms of character development, Gandalf's conversation is interesting because it puts his limited powers within focus. His knowledge of the futureof what is fatedis implied by phrases like "If we can only find him [Bilbo] again, you will thank me before all is over." Permitting suspense, but only for a time, Gandalf knows that Bilbo is able to save himself when Gandalf no longer can save the hobbit. The introduction of the "Lord of the Eagles" initiates Biblical allusions, but more important, the relationships between various species are gaining some clarity. The eagle is a symbol representing keen-sight, strength and endurance. And after the descent into the caves, the ascension with the eagles is a welcome contrast.
While sleep brings rest, it does not bring unconsciousness for Bilbo. As these themes develop, we find that Bilbo's nostalgia overpowers his need for immediate shelter. Instead of enjoying his present shelter, he longs for his old home. His sleeps "on the hard rock more soundly than ever he had done on his feather-bed" and in physical terms, we can understand the juxtaposed images (hard rock, feather-bed).
But what we find is that, in Bilbo's dream, the feather-bed is a metonym that stands for his entire house and the comforts of being at home. As much as his body needs sleep, his spirit needs home: "all night he dreamed of his own house and wandered in his sleep into all his different rooms looking for something that he could not find nor remember what it looked like." This is certainly a contrast to the rambling through the caves and it strengthens the search and "quest" motif of The Hobbit. As a finer, more precise detail, the reader should now consider Bilbo as a foil of Gollum and eventually, Smaug. In his dream, Bilbo has lost something and the irony of the dream goes beyond the thematic issues of interpretation and knowledge. Embarking upon his career as a thief, Bilbo has left his house; now, he dreams that he lost a piece of his property, he mimics his travels inside of the house that is mow very far away, and above all, he cannot remember what the lost thing looks likedoes he know what it is, then? The theme of nostalgia, one-third of the way through the novel, now poses Bilbo's risk of forgetting home even as he longs for it. This is an emptying of emotions, followed by a chapter entitled: "Queer Lodgings."
Chapter Seven: Queer Lodgings
Bilbo wakes early and the group soon departs, riding the eagles' backs to the other side of the Misty Mountains. Bilbo is a little uncomfortable, especially when the eagles begin to spiral in downward sweeps. Though he does not know where he is headed, Bilbo is glad to be deposited somewhere. Gandalf reestablishes his friendship with the Lord of the Eagles and the birds depart. A friend of Gandalf lives nearby and Gandalf intends to procure his assistance. Since this character is a recluse though, he cannot bring all of his company in at once. A ruse is designed to assure their slow but steady entrance into the great wooden house.
With a bit of truth-bending and a good amount of suspense, Gandalf is able to keep his friend, a giant/bear named Beorn, amused enough to admit the company of all of the dwarves. His wooden house is very comfortable and safe, and the travelers spend a few days in Beorn's protection. Later in the night, the dwarves are in raised spiritsto such an extent, that they are able to sing. During the day, Beorn leaves the house and verifies Gandalf's story in regards to the wolves and goblins. He is now, of course, more eager to assist them. He adds to their diminished store of supplies and helps them along the road, warning them not to stray off of the path. Soon after his departure, Gandalf returns to his own business, leaving the group with another admonition "DON'T LEAVE THE PATH!" Bilbo and the dwarves are back inside the forest.
We can definitely sense the varying tones of the story, as the action ranges from rescue, dining, singing, desertion, departure and those final ominous words of the chapter, foreshadowing doom with perfect clarity as the group "turned from the light that lay on the lands outside and plunged into the forest." We have images of the forest and the fears of a plunge, or fall. And we know that there are so many awful archetypes attached to plunges and falls: hell: the bottomless pit, the "fall" of man in the garden/forest, Icarus' plunge into the sea, etc.
The most important thing to identify in "Queer Lodgings" is the role that Beorn's house plays in Tolkien's merging of Christian and Anglo-Saxon literary tradition. The company of travelers can be considered as an Anglo-Saxon troop of warriors who have arrived at a great mead-hall, akin to Heorot in Beowulf. Certainly, this allusion is evidenced by the descriptions of the interior and the martial aspect of the proprietor, Beorn. The Christian symbolism, oddly enough, does not come in the supper scene, but first, in the equation of Beorn's house as a way-station for pilgrims united against a common evil; second, in Beorn's role as a larger-than-life protector who offers a safe and restricted space; and finally, in the departures of the two saviors, Beorn and Gandalf, leaving their followers with blessings and warnings. Beorn's house is the image of heaven but the restrictions he establishes and the warnings regarding the forest, aptly illustrate the parallel between Eden and destruction. So, to sum up Tolkien's Christianized Eden/Forest/Path motif: we can see Beorn as a God who lives in a secure heaven-like lodging, setting the individuals into the forest with the promise that they may always return. As an intermediary between Beorn and the others, Gandalf travels a little further than Beorn, and though it is obvious and foreshadowed that the group will stray off of the path, Gandalf plays Messiah by warning them not to stray. In terms of Tolkien's own system of symbols, note that Gandalf heads for the West and this is where good souls spend their eternity, and in sync with the alluded ascension of Christ, Gandalf went "away and was soon lost to sight," leaving his disciples behind. In a very literal way, these novices need to stay on the path and because they don't, the upcoming chapter "Flies and Spiders" is not very pleasant.
Chapter Eight: Flies and Spiders
Bilbo and the dwarves begin marching in single file and the forest becomes a gloomy tunnel because the tops of the trees meet and make a sun-shielding canopy. It is hard to sleep because there are myriad animals on both sides of the road. The provisions of food are diminishing and eventually this is what sparks the move to stray from the prescribed road. There is a small brook to be forded and Bilbo proves efficient here. Unfortunately, Bombur, one of the awkward dwarves falls into the water and this water is poisoned. Bombur is recovered but he remains in a stupor for the duration of the chapter.
It seems that there is a fire not far off the side of the roadmaybe there is food there? Alas, this is a mirage that occurs several times until finally, the group is separated and lost. It seems to be some magic at work. Bilbo is alone in the dark and after trying to find his friends, he gives up and goes to sleep. He is arrested in his sleep, attacked by a giant spider that was trying to poison him. Bilbo kills it with his sword and then he, himself, falls down and passes out. When he wakes up he finds his friends swaddled in spider net, suspended from tree branches and guarded by a troop of spiders. Bilbo's invisibility and sword help to get some of the dwarves free. Things improve when Gandalf returns to offer assistance, but in the end, Thorin is missing and he must be rescued from the king of the wood-elves.
This chapter celebrates the forest as a site of magic, combining the archetypes of non-fantasy literature and the characters and activities that we expect in the genres of children's literature or perhaps, fables. We do want to draw distinctions between fantasy and mythology, here. The troop of giant spiders is much like an instance of fantasy. It does not resemble the Greek spiders (the myth of Arachne) and though the spider is a symbol of evil and subterfuge, the symbolic content of the spider-web is only an image hereit is not developed. On the other hand, the magical "dinner-dreams" of the elves are well within the genres of literary fiction and mythology. We might compare this chapter to Christina Rossetti's famous poem "Goblin Market," because of the successful injection of magic on the sidelines of our real and contemporary society. And the didactic (educational, instructional, warning) tone of Gandalf in the previous chapter, is present in Rossetti's poem and this chapter as well.
The idea of dreams is connected to the themes of consciousness and unconsciousness. We are glad that Bilbo is a light sleeper and he is a hero for itand this is not the first time. Isn't this a little unexpected though, a bit of a contrast to Bilbo's groggy complaints for more sleep-time and late-starts in the morning? His character is developing and deepening. Bombur's fall into the water is not strong enough to be a neat and clean, very precise mythological allusion but it does resemble several scenes and motifs (a few of which are worth noting). Politically incorrect? Certainly. But Bombur's sleep, sluggishness and gluttony are not merely coincidental; Bombur is becoming a comica specific type of character who plays a buffoon: he is overweight, he sleeps, he must be carried and he is semi-conscious yet quite hungry. In terms of character development, Bombur maybe "round" physically, but in literary terms he is still "flat." Realize though, that the food- and sleep-loving Hobbit is even more of a hero, when Bombur can take his place as the burdensome, lethargic, hungry character. Especially, when we consider that there are fourteen dwarves and not all of them have personalities, it seems we are not taking excessive license here; rather, we are drawing an insightful conclusion: the dwarves are plot-devices and the story is really about Bilbo and the ring.
If Thorin were the hero, he would have proven it by nowand not by getting himself lost. Tolkien's groups may travel in packs of fourteen and fifteeneven the LOTR Trilogy begins with an awkwardly large pack of travelersbut the heroes are only able to locate and develop their heroism, an inborn thing, when they are alone. The parallel between the lost hero, Thorin, and the lost hobbit, Bilbo, becomes interesting now. The alliteration of swords: "Beater," "Biter" may toss add a certain gleam to these blades, alternately called cleavers and hammers. And to their credit, these swords have slain many foes in battle. But Tolkien's presentation departs from the outmoded medieval fields of battle (so unfortunately resuscitated in WWI trench-style fighting), and quite rationally understands good vs. evil to be a war composed of skirmishes, nighttime ambushes, one-on-one fights and internal (personal) struggles. Bilbo is a hero who does not fight armies, yet he wins battles without seeking them.
Bilbo does not fit the archetype of the epic hero on a quest, because even the medieval Christianized revisions produce questing hero who are more martial than Bilbo is. It is significant that Bilbo names his sword and that he names it: "Sting." And unlike Beater and Biter, Sting is treated as a metonym: it is only associated with Bilbo, but because Bilbo is invisible it is considered to be his body because this body part is all that can be seen. Here, the part becomes the whole (body). This new development in the sword imagery is treated in more depth within the discussion of the theme: "Heroism."
Suspense and foreshadowing are not quite the same thing, but we will find plenty of both at the end of each chapter (and it is useful to keep track of the chapter names well before you actually get to the chapter). There is suspense regarding Thorin's whereabouts but the tone is not ominous. Instead of death, the difficulty of the inevitable heroic act is what is foreshadowed. Look to Bilbo for heroics and look at individual dwarves (namely Bombur, Thorin, and the duo: Fili & Kili) as "types" of characters that are made available precisely so that you can compare them to Bilbo and understand Bilbo's emergence into heroism.
The Hobbit Essays and Related Content
- The Hobbit: Major Themes
- The Hobbit: Essays
- The Hobbit: Questions
- The Hobbit: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- J.R.R. Tolkien: Biography
- The Hobbit Summary
- About The Hobbit
- Character List
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1-4
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5-8
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9-12
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 13-16
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 17-19
- Related Links on The Hobbit
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources